The best captivating complete perfect reads of selfless importance and relevance read as of Mars 2024

While reading through books and comics from best-of lists, the fun idea of comparing it all gave form to my own list of the best of both fiction and non-fiction books and comics.

The best captivating complete perfect reads of selfless importance and relevance read as of Mars 2024

Like a savage I’ve been searching for the best books and comics of all time, which resulted in best-of lists where the “best” varies from list to list. Such a list makes more sense when a scope is defined. For this list, below, the title, above, defines the scope, which is basically a description of my taste in literature.

The criteria here is that a great literary work or it’s literary importance is not enough for this best books/reads list. The work has to tell something of more unintuitive importance for the current world or a plausible future, though not necessarily explicitly. At the same time it has to captivate.

Untangling the scope
  • Regarding “perfect”: stand alone books easier maintains higher quality throughout and easier deliver all points top notch; a book series can vary more in quality; a better book tends to find the needed balance of it’s actors, settings, plots, themes and conflicts.
  • Regarding “selfless”: I’m referring to books that matters more than the self; that matters for society, culture, humanity or the ‘world’.
  • Regarding “relevance”: books should still bear great relevance in general, and preferably not have missed too much when envisioning the future — older classic sci-fi struggle with the latter — unless it ‘works’ on another plane.

The 15 best books and comics

The Road

The Road (Cormac McCarthy 2006)

The Road is a warning, and arguably McCarthy’s most important work. After the novel presents it’s most horrific events, less horror becomes times of reflection on survival, mindset and life in a dystopian world after apocalypse. Note: The movie did not have the same impact on me — the book gives you thoughts. The Road art by Max Hancock (behance.net)


Blindsight

Blindsight (Peter Watts 2006)

In this surprisingly hard sci-fi to include vampires, earth is ‘visited’ by an alien phenomenon that manifests in the sky. A crew of transhumans — and a vampire — travel on the unique space ship Theseus, built for the occasion, to a signal believed to be the visitors, and starts exploring. Get to (re)know how fragile humans are, realize how even more fragile and gullible we are, and get an unintuitive perspective on intelligent life and consciousness. Blindsight cover art from Centipede Press’ limited edition


Happening

Happening (Annie Ernaux 1999)

Sharp, to the point, author’s experience of illegal abortion that timelessly depicts the mixed morality of occupations that manifest when something societally necessary is illegalized. Annie Ernaux illustration by Claire Merchlinsky for The New Yorker


Vertebrae

Vertebrae (Thure Erik Lund 2023)

In a hard and different work of sci-fi that can be read standalone or as a continuation of Identity (Thure Erik Lund 2017), an artifical consciousness is awake inside another agent who’s agency has changed the world considerably not in a worse way, and the next level of a technological agent might already be present. It is read from the consciousness’ wordstream, and it tries to grasp itself. When it references its human connections of sorts, realities and what it’s really trying to grasp starts to blend. Vertebrae cover art by Aina Griffin, based on a font by pialhovik/Istock


Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (Kurt Vonnegut 1969)

An anti-war book about the World War II soldier Billy Pilgrim, his experiences in the war and the attack on Dresden, his affected life that follows and him jumping through his time. Slaughterhouse-Five art by Derek Heldenbergh (behance.net)


The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway 1952)

A dramatic fishingtrip with the old unlucky fisherman with his old ways and joys and love of the ocean, and the underlying currents of temptation for industrialization. The Old Man and the Sea art by RHADS (deviantart.com)


Echopraxia

Echopraxia (Peter Watts 2014)

In the same universe as Blindsight, Watts now introduces Zombies in this hard sci-fi where a scientist accidentally finds himself aboard a spaceship on a journey exploring consciousness and defying physical reality. Note: Blindsight and Echopraxia has a connecting short story — The Colonel (Peter Watts 2014). Echopraxi cover art from Centipede Press’ limited edition


Swimming With Sharks: My Journey into the World of the Bankers

Swimming With Sharks: My Journey into the World of the Bankers (Joris Luyendijk 2016)

In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 Joris Luyendijk interviewed around 200 people that works in London’s financial center, City of London. This book collects interview transcripts and Luyendijk’s interpretation of a culture like an airborne plane with an empty cockpit that will crash for another financial crisis. Image from The Joris Luyendijk’s banking blog at The Guardian


Hyperion Cantos

Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion (Dan Simmons 1989, 1990)

The first two books of the Hyperion Cantos (which includes an ending) is epic sci-fi with a mysterious world that actually proves itself towards the end of the second book to still be relevant, and actually becomes more relevant (except for some charming questionable comparisons to classical western culture of today), with galaxy reaching artificial intelligence. Featuring the main cast of six pilgrims — with the second book accompanied by an android — on the perhaps crucial last crusade to the creature known as the Shriek. Hyperion art by Tsabo6 (deviantart.com)


No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy 2005)

A deadly no country for old men rings true as an image of the, hopefully, less violent relatable reality. No Country for Old Men art by Sara Wong (behance.net)


Fire Upon the Deep

Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge 1992)

The non-human point of view chapters are true works of art, the rest is epic smart space opera. Fire Upon the Deep cover art by ahaas (deviantart.com)


Hilda and the Troll

Hilda and the Troll (Luke Pearson 2010)

A simple beautiful fantasy comic album for all ages that’s not ‘black and white’ in any way. Hilda cover art by Luke Pearson


The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed (Ursula K. Le Guin 1974)

A slow pondering unique explorative read about an anarchistic society and one of it’s researcher’s journey to the twin capitalistic planet, his time before in the anarchistic society, and a slowly unfolding truth of both societies. The Dispossessed cover art from the Folio publication illustrated by David Lupton


Unflattening

Unflattening (Nick Sousanis 2015)

The comic book of Nick Sousanis’ research is an incredible work of non-fiction. Unflattening cover art by Nick Sousanis


Havboka, eller Kunsten å fange en kjempehai fra en gummibåt på et stort hav gjennom fire årstider

Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean (Morten A. Strøksnes 2015)

Originally titled Havboka which directly translates to “The Ocean Book” (the English title could be missleading and the translation have been mentioned to be subpar). It’s a book about the ocean and life in the north of Norway; life in the ocean, fishing and its effects, and about catching a large Greenland shark. Havboka cover art by Exil Design for Forlaget Oktober

Honorable mentions

Watchmen

Watchmen (Moore & Gibbons 1986-1987) An intricate comic about an unusual, more real and flawed group of superheros. Watchmen art – new – by Dave Gibbons

Solaris (Stanislaw Lem 1961). Classic sometimes thrilling and sometimes slow deep hard sci-fi that still holds up, featuring the still unique Solaris’ alien.

We (Yevgeny Zamyatin 1921). Timeless influential dystopian sci-fi; satirical and still funny; less straightforward plot than other old sci-fi classics, yet the themes are timeless, and; the writing magnificently makes the world live as much between the lines as in them.

Nine Stories (J. D. Sallinger 1953). The Stranger (Albert Camus 1942). Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy 1985). Stoner (John Williams 1965). The Freeze-Frame Revolution (Peter Watts 2018). The Sharks (Jens Bjørneboe 1974). Hunger (Knut Hamsun 1890). Lanzarote (Michel Houellebecq 2000). Morning and Evening (Jon Fosse 2000). Soft City (Pushwagner 1969-1975).

Considered best reads that I apparently find overrated

Some are still good, some not so much:

  • Remembrance of Earth’s Past (Cixin Liu 2006, 2008, 2010). Inspiring and thrilling hard philosophical sci-fi.
  • Dune (Frank Herbert 1965). The sci-fi classic for many, loved for its ingenuity at the time and its incredible influence. It still has rich world building and great adventure.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke 1968). The Incal (Jodorowsky & Moebius 1980-1988). The Arrival (Shaun Tan 2006). Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Miyazaki 1982-1994). Metabarons (Jodorowsky & Giménez 1992-2003). Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Noah Harari 2011). The Little Prince. Dark Matter. Neuromancer. 1984. Brave New World.

Some can simply be avoided:

  • The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925). Taken by the “classic sickness”, it’s mentioned as a “must read” several places, but actually has no real relevance (except literary) for anyone (anymore?). It’s a shallow drama presenting shallow insights of its victims in a shallow upper class setting.

Reflection

This little obsession started when I explored what sci-fi I ‘needed’ to read and looked at best-of lists of sci-fi. I’ve been reading those I thought possibly could make this list. Then I continued exploring what’s considered the best books of all time in the same way. And then comics, graphical novels and mangas.

I realized, or I believe, there’s a “classic sickness” since classics are naturally more easily widely regarded as best-ofs since they over a longer time are mentioned as great books and becomes more read. Some aggregated best-of lists are too colored of other older lists and classics. A list is more likely to be an actual best-of list when there’s a mix of old classics, modern classics and new books. And preferably a list presents the criteria/scope — what separates a great book from the best books.

There were some surprises along the way for me, e.g., how Ernaux and Hemingway are in my top 5, but finding the, to me, unknown, Blindsight on top of a sci-fi list — I’ve later seen it on top of another list — really made this exploration worth it.

For my top pick, The Road hasn’t been on top of any list, but it’s present on several both sci-fi and general best-of lists, but still a bit by chance I borrowed and read the best book ever written. A book I’m not sure I have the stomach to read again. Luckily there’s apparently many great books to continue this journey with.